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WHAT IS NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING?

“Natural family planning” and “fertility awareness” are terms used for family planning methods that do not use hormones, chemicals, or barriers to avoid or achieve pregnancy. These methods teach you how to track normal monthly changes in your body that can tell you whether you are likely to get pregnant on a given day. By learning a natural family planning method and carefully tracking your body's monthly changes, you can know when to avoid sex to prevent pregnancy or you can know when to have sex if you want to get pregnant.

THE “RHYTHM METHOD” OR “CALENDAR METHOD”?

In the late 1920s, scientists found a method that they thought would work for most women. This method asks women who have regular periods to keep track of the number of days between each period. This number is used to figure out which days you are likely to get pregnant if you have sex. The more months you track, the more accurate this method becomes. If you keep a record of how many days between each period for only 3 months, the method is only 64% effective. If you track your periods for 12 months or more, the method is 90% effective. Today, there are more ways to know when you are most likely to get pregnant and several methods of natural family planning that you can use. The most common methods are listed on the back of this handout.

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING?

There are many reasons that you might choose to use natural methods of family planning:

  • There are no side effects
  • You can stop anytime
  • There is no need to rely on a health care provider for birth control
  • Working together on natural family planning may bring you and your partner closer
  • Natural family planning is accepted by all religions

WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING?

  • Natural family planning methods do not protect you against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or HIV
  • If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, these methods require that you do not have sex for several days

IS NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING SOMETHING I CAN COUNT ON IF I DON'T WANT TO GET PREGNANT?

With perfect use, between 2 and 5 out of every 100 women per year will get pregnant using one of the natural family planning methods described here. You have to carefully keep track of regular body changes over several months. You are more likely to have success with natural family planning if you are comfortable touching your body and you have a partner who also wants to use natural family planning. Stress, lifestyle, smoking, and health will all affect the monthly changes in your body.

HOW DOES NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING WORK?

During every menstrual cycle, a woman's body changes daily. Signs of these changes can be seen, felt, and measured. The signs used by most natural family planning methods are:

  • The feel, shape, and position of the cervix
  • The texture, color, and amount of mucus in the vagina
  • Body temperature
  • Feeling of heaviness and breast tenderness, as well as abdominal pain

For example, on days when you are less likely to get pregnant, the cervix hangs low in the vagina and feels firm (like the tip of your nose). On days when you are more likely to get pregnant, the cervix is higher in the vagina and feels softer (more like the flesh on your chin).

If you are breastfeeding, have irregular periods, have just stopped using birth control pills, or if you don't have periods, please discuss the use of natural family planning with your health provider before using any of these methods.

 Signs Used by Each Method
Major Natural Family Planning MethodsCervical ChangesVaginal MucusBBT26–32 Day CyclesUnintended Pregnancies with Perfect Use*
  1. BBT = Basal body temperature.

  2. *Number of pregnancies per 100 women per year of use with perfect use.

The Billings Ovulation Method X  3–5
(651) 699-8139
www.boma-usa.org
Creighton Model FertilityCare System (CrM) X  1–3
(402) 392-0842
www.creightonmodel.com
Based on the original rhythm method
Family of the Americas Foundation (FAM)XXX 1–3
(800) 443-3395
www.familyplanning.net
Marquette Model (MARQ) XX 1–4
Institute for Natural Family Planning
(414) 288-3854
http:www.marquette.edunursingNFP
Uses the Clearblue Easy Fertility urine test kit
Standard Days Method (SDM) CycleBeads   X5
Institute for Reproductive Health
(202) 687-1392
www.irh.org
http:cyclebeads.com
Sympto-Therma Method (STM)XXX 2–5
Couple to Couple League
(800) 745-8252
www.ccli.orgnfp
TwoDay Method (TDM) X  4
Institute for Reproductive Health
(202) 687-1392
www.irh.org
Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM)This method is for women who are breastfeeding a baby less than 6 months old. You have to: (1) give the baby breast-milk only (no bottles, pacifiers, or baby food); (2) breastfeed at least once at night (no more than 6 hours between feedings); and (3) not have periods.   2
Several web sites describe this method:
http:engenderhealth.orgwhfpclam1.html
www.waba.org.myspecialpageslamlam.htm

This page may be reproduced for noncommercial use by health care professionals to share with clients. Any other reproduction is subject to JMWH approval. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JMWH suggests that you consult your health care provider.

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